After the "Great Resignation," companies across America and Europe have another post-pandemic phenomenon to worry about: "quiet quitting".
The TikTok craze and social media buzzword has been defined and redefined in countless news articles and opinion pieces. One thing is certain: "quiet quitting" doesn't actually involve resigning from your job – at least, not right away.
Whether it’s mentally checking out from your job and doing the bare minimum to get by, or rejecting the corporate hustle culture and no longer going above and beyond at work, “quiet quitting” has now become something of a rallying cry for a better work-life balance.
The term has a fairly negative, even passive-aggressive connotation. But those who admit to no longer going the extra mile – and the human resources (HR) experts witnessing the trend – say it’s actually positive and healthy that workers are setting clearer boundaries with their jobs.
"I'd prefer people to say that this is ‘rational living’ as opposed to 'quiet quitting,'" Paula Allen, Global Leader of Research at wellbeing services company LifeWorks, told Euronews Next.
"It's being rational: not being irrational and burning yourself out, but it's also not preventing yourself from being your best. It’s about prioritisation, not quitting".
Euronews Next spoke to four workers who admit to trying “quiet quitting” – but who all eventually left their jobs. Here’s what they had to share.
'Overworked and burning out'
For 31-year-old Londoner Natalie Pearce, “quiet quitting” started when she was working as a lead consultant within an agency and was signed off by her doctor for burnout.
“I’d felt for a long time that I was trying to juggle too many things at once, due to fear that if I didn’t, things would fall apart and my teammates would suffer. I often described it as feeling as though my brain was being carved up into so many pieces that there wasn’t anything left for me to give,” she said.
“I don’t think any role should push people to the point of having to get signed off of work so I knew that something needed to change drastically when I returned”.
"The interesting thing is that I don’t think many people even noticed the change, except for those closest to me," she said. "I was still able to do my job and do it well, but I’d released myself from the pressure of going needlessly over and above".
This phase of "quiet quitting" went on for about a year before Pearce eventually handed in her resignation and co-founded The Future Kind Collective, a consultancy that helps companies design cultures that engage and retain workers.
Recent workplace wellbeing surveys suggest Pearce’s struggle – from feeling overworked to burning out and quietly disengaging – is not an isolated one.
Winningtemp, an HR tech company that surveys employee wellbeing and measures the “temperature" of workers’ job satisfaction, says its data since 2021 shows employees are increasingly feeling overworked and stressed.
This is not something to be taken lightly, says Winningtemp’s head of HR Sara Holmberg.
"Employers need to understand that at this point in time, they need to go above and beyond to stay attractive to both new applicants and also current employees," she told Euronews Next.
Companies need to start asking the right questions, she added, “having open conversations regarding stress levels, regarding the job scope, the boundaries and so on”.
"And it's not a once-a-year conversation. It's an ongoing conversation that you need to have every day".
What triggers quiet quitting?
Bad communication with management can easily cause employees to feel undervalued and ultimately engage in "quiet quitting".
This is what happened to August Gawen, who had been working in the charity sector for 13 years and felt constantly pressured to do too much with too little time and resources.
"When I said I felt really stressed, and I felt stressed about even going on holiday because there was so much to do, they were like 'well, you could just not take your holiday'. And I was like, 'no, this is not happening,'" the 33-year-old said.
So began a "journey of reclaiming," in his words: "I started to only work my hours, say no to unreasonable deadlines and take all my time off. That really resulted in a good improvement in my mental health".
Still, taking this step back was very challenging in a field "where everyone was encouraged to go above and beyond for a good cause," Gawen said, noting that the charity sector doesn’t boast many role models when it comes to a healthy work-life balance.
"Ultimately I realised that even trying to ‘quiet quit’ in an environment where it's so pressured is just kind of impossible, really".
This phase lasted for about six months before Gawen actually quit, and three months later set up his own business as a coach in minimalist living.
"I love what I do. I'm not in a toxic work environment anymore, and I'm able to take care of my mental and physical health a lot better than if I was working for someone else".
'Act your wage – but know what you’re worth'
For 29-year-old Lauren Schneider, who lives in the US state of Pennsylvania and moved from TV journalism to public relations a few years ago, what triggered quiet quitting was being denied the raise she had hoped and hustled for.
"It was actually my first job out of news. So I was very familiar with working myself to death, and I just thought that's what you do," she said.
"I was doing three additional full-time jobs in addition to what was on my actual job description. When I brought this up in a performance review, I came with a full presentation on the cost of each of those jobs if we were to hire people or outsource. I was saving the company hundreds of thousands of dollars by doing it alone, and doing it well," she explained.
"When I asked to consider giving me larger than the 3 per cent raise cap, they said 'Lauren, you're too tactical. People who deserve promotions and raises are more strategic'.
"I immediately shut down. I was like, that's it – that's all I needed to hear. They don't care. They can keep saying, 'oh, you're doing a great job,' but it's just fuel for me to work harder and harder for no real outcome or career growth," she said.
"In that moment, I walked out of the office and 'quietly quit'. I realised I should have been acting my wage the whole time".
Two months later, she went on maternity leave and never came back. Instead, she resigned, worked as an independent contractor for a few months and later found a new PR role at a tech company where she earns an extra €30,000 a year than she used to.
"Now I realise what it means for people to care about you and your contributions and to be compensated fairly. And how that alone has inspired me to want to go above and beyond, not to feel like I have to go above and beyond just to get further in my career or to make more money," she said.
"It does feel passive-aggressive in nature to 'quietly quit' - like 'okay, if you're going to treat me this way, then I'm going to show up with the same exact attitude'. But I think you can also put a positive spin on it: People are finally realising that they're worth something. And I think we're just asking for fairness, honestly," she added.
"I don't understand why burnout culture is awarded. We celebrate people working so hard to the point where we're miserable, we have no work-life balance, and that's just become the norm. So I think anybody who's doing the opposite and trying to reclaim balance in their lives is seen as contradictory to what corporate America wants us to be doing".
'The pandemic changed us'
Amie Jones, 37, began her career in marketing and was, in her words, "a careerist with bags full of ambition" until she became Head of Communications at a not-for-profit in the UK.
"The hours were long and the role was stressful, but this was my dream job and I was so happy to have made it," she said.
What first threw her off balance was when her close friend from university told her she was dropping to three days a week. Then came a "perfect storm": the COVID-19 pandemic, post-natal depression, and a sudden family bereavement.
Jones said she engaged in "quiet quitting" when she realised running on the corporate treadmill wasn’t what made her truly happy.
She started only working the hours she was meant to do, said no to unnecessary travel or overnight stays, and stopped picking up calls or answering emails at home or at weekends.
This exercise in setting boundaries, which lasted for about a year before she eventually resigned, wasn’t easy.
"I'm a competitive person and I'm a people pleaser. So I was always ruffled by the kind of hustle of my other colleagues and their presenteeism. And a big mental shift was to just focus on what I'm doing," she said.
Jones says this quiet quitting freed up so much time "to think, to be with family, to rest".
She eventually handed in her resignation and went on to launch the Kind Kids Book Club, a children’s book club with a focus on celebrating kindness. Now being her own boss, she cherishes the flexibility she has around her schedule and the time she can spend with her three sons.
Should I try 'quiet quitting'?
"I think it’s absolutely worth giving it a try," said Jones. "It is not as negative as it sounds. It's actually about setting boundaries based on what works for you. And actually what might come of it and what you might get out of it could really be worth it".
Pearce, the consultant, suggests workers considering “quiet quitting” carefully assess their situation.
"Have you mentally checked out and no longer enjoy your role or working for your employer? Or are you working over capacity and want to make sure that this is temporary?" she asked.
"If you’ve checked out, then it’s probably best to start looking for a new role that can re-energise you. But if it’s more that you’re working over your threshold and need to rebalance, then I’d suggest reviewing your boundaries and communicating these with your manager to help them understand how you work most effectively".
Allen, the wellbeing expert at LifeWorks, finds the term “quiet quitting” unfortunate because it can prompt workers to understand it literally and "quietly, passive-aggressively opt out" – which is not actually helpful in preventing burnout.
"We need a balanced diet for our lives. We need to have fun. We need to have social relationships. We need to have a sense of accomplishment in work and out of work," she said.
"So as you're not doing the things that are low priority, what are you doing to support your wellbeing? Do you have social support? Are you investing in other people? Do you have a sense of gratitude? Are you exercising? Are you doing something creative?"
Gawen, the former charity worker, echoes that advice.
"I just want to encourage people to reclaim their time and reclaim their lives, because it's not all about work," he said.
"Jobs will come and go, but nothing is more important than your sanity, your mental health, the time that you spend with family and friends. That's the stuff that really, really matters".